Dark Matter and Dinosaurs

May 2nd, 2016

A new book by Harvard physicist, Lisa Randall, Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs proposes a link between the mysterious “dark matter” near our galaxy and the extinction of the dinosaurs. The argument is complicated but, in essence, Randall argues that the dark matter occasionally (every 30 million years or so!) knocks asteroids orbiting our sun off course. It was one of these asteroids that hit the earth and caused the massive global cooling that killed off the large dinosaurs.

Randall’s book is straight (and very clearly-written) science. But the religious reader can’t help noting that once again, an apparent advance in science has made the universe look even more complicated than we thought. Professor Randall apologizes for the complication–but Christians may suspect that the marvels of creation will lead to wonder at the universe God has made. —J. Douglas Ousley


Ripple Effect

April 25th, 2016

A very active member of our parish, Ann Churchill, died on April 11; her funeral was last Saturday.

I was amazed at the response to her relatively sudden death–all the people Ann helped in one way or another over the years. Not just family and friends, but parishioners and old people and neighbors and community group members. The range of response was extraordinary for a seemingly modest 77-year-old former nurse.

Ann’s example shows among other things the powerful effect of a generous and creative Christian soul. May Ann rest in peace–and may we follow her fine example! —J. Douglas Ousley


Can You Believe There are Actually Unbelievers?

April 13th, 2016

As a judge on the TV show, The Voice, the popular singer and music producer Pharrell Williams often refers to Gospel and other Christian musical traditions. He describes himself as a kind of Universalist, though clearly coming from the Christian camp.

Asked once about “those who have concluded that God simply doesn’t exist”, Williams remarked: “It’s so incredibly arrogant and pompous. It’s amazing that there are people who really believe that.”

A good point. Given all that we know about the vast universe and the mysteries of the human soul, the notion that some divine force doesn’t exist seems to strain credulity. —J. Douglas Ousley


Spring Planting

April 4th, 2016

I recently had lunch with a senior church leader who was concerned about the number of Episcopal churches with declining memberships. Not the least of the problems of these parishes is their unwillingness to change. It’s no wonder that they have trouble growing.

The leader and I agreed that one way out of this dilemma was to try to “plant” new congregations either in closed churches or within existing small churches. This is proving very successful in London and some other dioceses in the Church of England. There is even a new bishop in London with special responsibility for starting new congregations.

I like the idea of planting within buildings we already have, since this strategy avoids the problem of finding a new space for worship and ministry. We may hope and pray that this idea catches on in the American Episcopal church. —J. Douglas Ousley


TMI

March 30th, 2016

TMI. “Too much information.” This expression is used when someone tells you more about themselves than you wanted to know–about their relationships, for example, or their health.

I would argue that we have too much information about the Resurrection–which is why the various New Testament accounts disagree in many details: how many angels were at the tomb on Easter morning, whether Jesus in his spiritual form could be touched, etc.

Yet the fact that we have all this information does, I would argue, add to the credibility of the witnesses. For disagreements among witnesses about details of an experience are common. Court cases frequently have conflicting testimony about the simplest events.

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was not a simple event. All the more reason to expect different stories from different witnesses. All the more reason to expect that the new life of Jesus will remain a cherished miracle beyond our grasp. —J. Douglas Ousley


By God’s Gift

March 25th, 2016

On Ash Wednesday, the blessing of the ashes concludes with these words: “that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life.”

I don’t know whether non-Christians receive a life after death; I suppose I believe they do, though they may have to go through a period of post-mortem preparation for the life of Heaven.

But what is relevant to Christians is that eternal life is a gift of God. It’s not something we merit; it’s not something we can expect automatically. It’s a gift.

And that gift is part of the reason we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning. For he is, as St. Paul said, “the first fruits of them that slept”–the first person to rise into the glory of eternity, foreshadowing the potential we all are now given to inherit eternal life. So, as the hymn says, “Jesus lives, now no longer death enthralls us–Alleluia!” —J. Douglas Ousley


Only in New York

March 18th, 2016

As I have noted in past posts, our associate rector and I now offer blessings on Tuesday mornings from 9 to 9:30 to anyone passing by the front steps of the church.

Last Tuesday, I was on the steps, and so many people wanted to be blessed and prayed for that there was actually a small line. It struck me later that this was typical of New York City. When people see a line outside a store or a restaurant, they are tempted to join. If it’s worth waiting for, they reason, it must be good. —J. Douglas Ousley


First Things

March 14th, 2016

As we make plans for all the observances of Holy Week, there is one abiding lesson that we all have to re-learn. Whatever liturgies we choose, the Cross and Resurrection are central to our faith.

Beyond the church programs and projects, more than the meetings and plans, besides the priestly and the prophetical, we remember the death and risen life of Jesus of Nazareth.

All churchy events are eclipsed by the reality of our sin and the atonement of the Cross. So we are drawn to the final hours of Christ, our beloved Messiah. —J. Douglas Ousley


Religion and Politics

March 2nd, 2016

Among the many confusions of this year’s Presidential race is the influence of the candidates’ religious beliefs on the voters. The most public Christian, Ted Cruz appeals mostly to very conservative Christians. Donald Trump is a professed mainline Christian (with some Episcopal connections, though he is Presbyterian) but few in the Protestant churches seem to be rallying to his side because of his beliefs.

Hillary Clinton is Methodist; her Christian connection may be helping her with minority voters since Bernie Sanders’ background is Jewish. Neither of them, however, talk much about their personal faith.

Since the rest of the field seem irrelevant to the final election, there are few conclusions yet to be drawn about the effect of religion on this contest. That said, prayer for our country would still seem to be a good idea.

J. Douglas Ousley


Was George Washington a Christian?

February 23rd, 2016

Many of the Founding Fathers were influenced by the Enlightenment and the attendant philosophy of Deism. According to Deists, God created the world and then let the world go on, making no further interventions in the course of events.

Washington may or may not have been a Deist. He was however an Episcopalian and Vestryman; I will be giving evidence of this commitment in my sermon this Sunday.

And whatever his personal religious beliefs, George Washington seems to have had a high sense of divine providence. At the same time, he seems to have had little inclination to mix politics and sectarian religion. In the current American political scene, where there are arguments as to which candidate is the most “Christian,” Washington’s approach would seem much more likely to promote peace in our republic. —J. Douglas Ousley